Court Rules Boston FD Can Eliminate Racial Quotas

The city no longer must follow a nearly 30-year-old policy of hiring one minority firefighter for every white because the department has achieved racial balance, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday.


BOSTON (AP) -- The city no longer must follow a nearly 30-year-old policy of hiring one minority firefighter for every white because the department has achieved racial balance, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday.

The court-ordered quotas, put in place when minorities made up a tiny percentage of the Boston Fire Department, have accomplished their goal, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said.

In 2000, blacks and Hispanics represented 40 percent of Boston's firefighters, slightly higher than their percentage in the city's overall population, according to the ruling.

``Remediation has taken more than a quarter-century. At long last, however, that objective has been achieved,'' Judge Bruce M. Selya wrote in the majority opinion.

A three-judge panel of the court ruled in favor of five white men who sued Boston in 2001 after they were not offered firefighting jobs despite scoring 99 points out of a possible 100 on their entrance exams.

``This lawsuit wasn't brought by some conservative think tank that was out to make some huge legal principle,'' said Harold L. Lichten, attorney for the plaintiffs. ``This case was brought by five really great guys who were trying to get on the Boston Fire Department, in some cases for five to 10 years.''

City attorney Susan Weise said she needed to review the ruling before commenting. The city could appeal the decision to the full appellate court or the Supreme Court.

The lawsuit challenged a court's decree _ upheld on appeal in 1974 _ stemming from two discrimination lawsuits filed by minority firefighter applicants against Boston and other municipalities.

About 45 other fire departments in Massachusetts were released from the decree's constraints after meeting its goals, but a lower court had ordered Boston to continue to follow the policy.

The 1st Circuit in its ruling stopped short of ordering a remedy for the plaintiffs, leaving that to the lower court.

The city and the NAACP had argued that the policy should still apply because minorities remain underrepresented in higher-level positions.

Attorney Toni G. Wolfman, who represented the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said she was disappointed but added that it was inevitable that the city would emerge from the decree.

``I just hope the commissioner and those in charge of hiring and employment practices in the fire department ... do not take this decision as a green light for the kinds of practices in which they have engaged in the past,'' she said.